By Nitin Chawla
“I don’t like being stuck at one place for long. I like to go around and see new places. I want to keep moving.” I had said to myself, as I was trapped for three weeks, in a warehouse, forty kilometres outside Shanghai. Back then, it was not uncommon for someone like me to be totally immersed in dust before anybody would notice and do the cleaning. I had several unpleasant experiences earlier, but this time, it was different. There was not much air around, making me sick. Darkness made me blind, I could not see anything and no signs of human around, was terrifying. Even today, whenever, I recall that experience, it sends the chill down my spine.
Those were the difficult moments. On one side I feared I would die there alone, while on the other, I wished death to free me from the unbearable agony. Smell of the rotten rats and stagnant moist air was so disgusting that I had forgot the basic fact that I wouldn’t die, at least for a few hundred years. I was made of stuff that lasts for ages.
That day in the evening, I had seen a dozen people working at some distance. It was good to see people after long. My hope had further leaped, when two among them walked towards me. They came close and one of them rested his hand on my head. I was relaxed that finally someone had cared for me and finally I would be out of the confinement. One man lighted a cigarette and then offered the lighter to the other. I kept waiting all the time for them to finish the cigarette but as soon as they finished they left the place without doing anything with me. They were just smokers who came to this corner of the warehouse to find a private place to smoke. I could do nothing but to curse them for their carelessness and ignorance of me. It was two more weeks of pain before four men came and lifted me and all my cousins, who were attached to me since birth. Men took us outside the warehouse to stuff in a truck docked nearby. I still cherish that moment of my life when I was brought out of the warehouse, like it was a long-denied freedom. It was in year 1995. I am a small piece of packaging and was manufactured to keep the potato chips safe.
I had seen sunlight after a long time. It was then that I could see myself completely. I was groomed to perfection, uniformly coloured from all sides. Neatly printed words all over my body, added meaning to my beautiful self. Well, a coated layer of aluminium on my inner skin is something not many could see, but I was there to admire for it. It was plain, yet beautiful and strongest part of me. It was to keep the potato chips safe from moisture and air. Sufferings of past few weeks were gone. I was totally lost in self-love, just when another man closed the doors of truck from backside and we had started moving.
I am not sure exactly how my forefathers looked-like. My blood line was invented in year 1861 in a laboratory in Birmingham, England by Alexander Parkes. Like many other scientific inventions, it was a discovery with limited uses in initial years but with gradual modifications, its applications grew steadily. However, world came to know about our true potential only after 1907 when Leo Baekeland, a Belgian Chemist created a fully synthetic version of plastic. He had then claimed that the new material invented had thousands of applications. We all can see today, he had highly underestimated our potential. We, the plastic, were lighter than steel and more easily mouldable than many other materials available then. Most importantly we had a long life that impressed the people most. It helped them to use us in multiple applications.
Today plastic is an integral part of human life. Alarm clock that wakes you in the morning, tooth brush, comb, paste tube, kitchen utensils that human use. Mobile, car, table chair, food packaging, TV and so many other things in the house. It was nowhere few decades ago, but today it is integral part of human life. Despite that plastic is among the most misunderstood things on the earth. It doesn’t feel right that something so useful is hated blindly.
Truck had arrived at a building next morning. It was a potato chips making factory. I and my cousins were stacked in front of packing machine from where I could see the other packaging plastics, going through the painful process of high temperature sealing. A few tiny pieces of potato chips were being filled in each pack. We, the plastic packs, were entrusted to guard them from moisture, air & damage of careless handling during transportation. It was the feeling of being a saviour for somebody that filled my heart with pride and all the pain of the process was gone.
That day, after the job in the potato factory was over, we were stuffed again inside the boxes and placed back on the truck. It was time for another journey. Since, I was tightly packed along with my other cousins in a box container, there wasn’t much space to move. During the journey, whenever there was a push or jerk, I had tried my best to not pass on the pressure to the small potatoes inside me. Afterall, I was the guardian.
For next few days, I moved from one warehouse to another before finally landing into a retail shop, where I was placed on a front shelf, and I could clearly see the wonderful activities inside the shop. If not more, it was as joyous a moment as the one, when I was released from the warehouse outside Shanghai, few weeks ago. I was happy that I reached the place, I truly belonged; it was my destiny.
Today when look back, I can only say how naïve I was. I used to love myself more than anything. People used to look at me with cravings, which always boosted my perception of self-worth.
It was just two days into the new place, when a middle-aged man, wearing loose Jeans and shirt half tucked-in, picked me and put me in his grocery basket along with a bottle of tomato sauce with chilly flavour. It was a slim and well-curved bottle. I could hardly take away my eyes of her and I knew instantly that my life was complete with her. I was dreaming a life together but Alas! it was a short-lived dream. Man’s wife jumped on him and cruelly picked me from the basket and threw back to the shelf. She yelled to the poor man, “You can’t have these. How many times, I have to warn?” Her target wasn’t as sharp as her angry-looking nose was, and I fell short of the shelf and dropped down on the floor. There was another man near-by who picked me and put me back on the shelves. This guy was even worse, he had put me on shelf in reverse. I was facing one of my cousins who was placed just behind me. I couldn’t see anything that day for rest of the evening.
Late at night, a kid came inside the mart. He straight came to me, picked me from top corner and teared my head off without a warning or without going through the standard process of purchase- payment-consumption. There was no warning. He had just chop-off my head. Merciless boy crumbled me with his hand and started to crush the tiny poor potato under his ugly-looking jaws. It was the first time, I felt so much pain for anybody other than me. I, the protector couldn’t do anything to save the potatoes. I didn’t know then, that it was the ultimate fate for potatoes.
I remember that he had eaten all pieces except few which he saved for later. He kept me inside his pocket and the memories of the that claustrophobic warehouse was back. Those few minutes when I was inside his pocket, I, once again started to hate my destiny. Occasionally, he took me out to eat one or two small pieces until he had gulped them all. He then, crushed me and tossed inside a dirty blue colour bin on the side of the road. I was suffering from the pain and stretched myself until I started to smell rotten eggs. I was surprised to see so much filth around. All my life I knew, dustbin as a place where all the unwanted stuff is dumped. I was thrown in the dustbin. It was the first time, I had thought, if I wasn’t needed anymore. Suddenly, it was difficult to believe that I was not a useful being. Where were those cravings and want for me? It took some time, but I realized what people truly sought was, what was inside me and not me. I was only needed till I was doing my job. Once out of work, I was worthless.
I was still questioning the meaning of life. “Do I have to live like this forever? Was good life only a matter of few days for me?” Memories of good old days of shelf in the shop, made it only worse. I was busy cursing myself just when I heard a familiar voice. One of my relatives who was with me in the factory was buried beneath a tray of leftover rice. I could see his head coming out of dump among other materials. His condition looked pitiful; it comforted that I wasn’t the only one with a bad fate.
He said with his head trembling. “All is not lost for us, my friend. We are not like other waste materials. We are different, we live forever. We would be sorted carefully, cleaned and recycled and will be new again like we were earlier. That’s our rebirth. We wouldn’t even remember this tragedy and insult. We will be heated melted and remade totally, new.
His words struck me hard, especially the fact that we wouldn’t remember the anything of our past. I asked him to clarify. “So, we won’t remember any of this? What about the memories of little girl who picked me caringly yesterday. What about that spicy ketchup bottle? I don’t want to forget those moments. I want to feel the two days I spent on the shelf, again and again. I don’t want to forget when, potatoes inside me slept without worries.”
“Yes, we have to forget everything.” He confirmed. “We had to die to relive a new life. It is the destiny.”
I wasn’t ready for this sacrifice. Somewhere inside me I had chosen not to go the recycling path. Next morning, when trash pickers came to dump me into the garbage truck, I took the help of the wind and slipped down to the side of the vehicle. I further glided to the other side of the road as one man chased me; but wind was my saviour that day, I was soon in a drain and the man didn’t pursue me further.
Since that day I travelled places to places ultimately reaching to the East China Sea, my home for last twenty years. Years of travelling in the harsh conditions has exhausted me. I cannot even recognise myself anymore. Sometimes I think of good days while other times memories of bad times haunt me. Years of introspection have taught me that it was not that stifling warehouse outside Shanghai, which was the worst phase of my life. Nor was it the filthy dustbin, near that retail shop. I think far worse is my unfulfilled potential. Far worse is being irrelevant.
Today, I am ready to go the recycling path, ready to forget all the good memories; but I don’t have the choice any more.
About Nitin Chawla
Nitin Chawla is a writer, with creative blend of mixing fiction with the current global challenges. He is a an engineer by education and works in Kuala Lumpur as a Manager.